Cheerleaders’ Bible Banners Banned from Football Games October 2, 2009

Cheerleaders’ Bible Banners Banned from Football Games

For over five years, the cheerleaders at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in Georgia have been rooting for their football team by using pro-Christian banners:

Apparently, ripping through the word Christ helps you win games?

But it doesn’t take a rocket scientist to know that’s illegal. You can’t endorse religion like that at a public school event.

A former class president of the school (and current youth pastor) doesn’t seem to understand the legal problems here:

“The cheerleaders are not trying to push a religious cause, to shove religion down someone’s throat,” said local youth minister Brad Scott, who was LFO High’s class president in 2004. “The cheerleaders are just using Scripture to show motivation and inspiration to the players and the fans.”

After a complaint was lodged last week, the school board banned the Christian banners.

Fort Oglethorpe Mayor Ronnie Cobb doesn’t seem to understand the legal problems here:

… Cobb vehemently disagrees with the ban and said he’ll call on the City Council to support the cheerleaders and their signs.

The signs don’t infringe on anyone’s religious rights and are good for school spirit, he said.

“I’m totally against them doing away with it,” Mr. Cobb said, adding that the cheerleaders’ rights are being abused.

The mayor doesn’t seem to give a shit about any of the students who are not Christians, or the students who are too afraid to come out as non-Christians, or the Christians who don’t see a need to ram their faith down everyone else’s throat.

The Christian Law Association’s Barbara J. Weller is trying to advise students on how to subvert the system in a legal way:

… there is another way around this problem. The students themselves have free speech rights at the school, including the right to discuss religion. Therefore, if the students themselves make other banners with Bible verses that are not part of their official cheerleading activities or an official banner for the game, these student banners would be protected free speech.

So I have been advising those who call us that while the students may not continue to put Bible verses on the banners they have been making officially for the games, the students have the right to make other banners with Bible verses on them, as long as they make the banners away from the school and bring them to the games to display on their own, without the school’s approval, permission or participation.

Finally, if the official school banners merely used the words, ‘Power, Love, Self Discipline’ on the official banners without reference to the Bible verse that includes them, this would not be religious expression and would not serve as the basis for a potential lawsuit.

While there’s a lot of controversy surrounding these banners, the school board made the right decision. The school must remain religiously neutral and not endorse a particular faith. Whatever kids want to do on their own regarding faith is their decision.

(Thanks to everyone for the link!)

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What Are Your Thoughts?leave a comment
  • OMG! The school was forcing those poor cheerleaders to make and display those banners? Thank God for atheism! What? (grin)

  • Maybe I’m in the minority here, but I don’t see a problem with the advice given from Barbara Weller. That advice is in line with both the letter and the spirit of the law.

    The whole point of separation is to keep the schools from officially endorsing a religion. What’s wrong with students doing their own thing in a non-official way?

    The school board acted correctly. It was illegal for the cheerleaders to do this as part of their official cheerleading activities. But while I would be very annoyed to have a bunch of Christian signs at a football game (where students created them on their own, away from the school), I would see it as an expression of free speech, not an infringement of the law.

  • American Family Association was complaining that the school did away with the banners because there was only one complaint about it. They seem to think that Constitutional rights should be decided by majority rules for some odd reason.

    It’s getting cliche to say this but imagine their reaction if it was a verse from the Koran. We’d never hear the end of it.

  • Raven

    I can’t be the only one reminded of the “long-winded cheer guy” skits from Late Night With Conan O’Brien. “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus” doesn’t sound like it would make a catchy cheer.

    Also, I really wonder about Christians who would use what is apparently a passage about religious salvation for something as trivial as a football game.

  • Dave

    I received this story in an email from the American Family Association this morning. (What can I say? They amuse me!)

    The AFA placed huge emphasis on the fact that it only took one complaint to get the banners banned. Here’s the text from the email:

    Cheerleaders at Lakeview-Fort Oglethorpe High School in Georgia have for many years created inspirational banners for home football games, the kind of banners players burst through as they come on to the field.

    Particularly since 9/11, the messages on the banners have often been verses from Scripture, such as “Do unto others as you would have them do unto you.”

    But based on one single verbal complaint from a local resident, the Bible has been banned from pregame banners. Once again the tyranny of the minority – in this case a minority of one – has threatened both religious liberty and freedom of speech.

    The mayor strongly supports the tradition and is disturbed that anyone would launch a complaint. After all, he says, “If it’s offensive to anyone, let them go watch another football game. Nobody’s forced to come there and nobody’s forced to read the signs.”

    A huge majority in the community also supports the longstanding practice. On just four hours notice, 1,600 people showed up at the polo grounds for a rally of support on Wednesday night.

    Your AFA has been in contact with our friends at pro-freedom First Amendment law firms, and are confident that the school district will have outstanding legal counsel if officials choose to craft a response that will preserve this uniquely American tradition.

    Catoosa County Schools Superintendent Denia Reese supports the banner tradition and reads the Bible daily herself, but wants to avoid an expensive lawsuit.

    It’s obvious that they don’t understand why it’s illegal for the school to endorse religion. I’m also interested in the use of this concept – the tyranny of the minority – especially considering the obstructive political behavior of the Christian right over the past few years.

    Now, I’m nowhere near an expert on constitutional law nor the First Amendment in particular. However, I would like to point out that the AFA’s statement – that this “has threatened both religious liberty and freedom of speech” – is absolute bull. Congress shall make no law… prohibiting the free exercise of religion. First of all, I can’t think of one bible verse that says anything about worship through banners at high school football games. It is, simply put, not an exercise of religion. It’s an exercise of school spirit. Second, The establishment clause prohibits the public establishment of a religion. The fact that it only took one complaint for the school board to see that it was sanctioning unconstitutional behavior makes that behavior no less unconstitutional.

    That said, Weller is absolutely correct. It’s perfectly legal for private citizens to make Christian-themed banners at home and bring them to the game. They have to remember, however, that it’s just as legal for someone to bring a banner touting the almighty power of the Flying Spaghetti Monster. I can’t imagine that they’d enjoy that.

  • If the banner quoted a passage from The Torah, the Quran, the Bhagavad Gita, or the I Ching, would it have created as much controversy? Freedom of speech encompasses speech that cites scripture. Now if the school allowed Bible passages but forbade Quranic passages, that would be indefensible.

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  • Siamang

    Jimmy, you miss the point.

    How would you feel if a satanist group demanded equal time at the school?

    It’s stuff like this that make me wish they had tried crap like this in my high school days. I SOOO would have made a satanist church club at school. Half the heavy-metal kids would have joined.

  • Valdyr

    Topic derail: has anyone else noticed (and been horrified by) the Scientology ads on this site? I just saw an animated one plugging, with a volcano erupting over the words “Why do people hurt the ones they love?” (The answer, presumably, will be withheld until you pay five or ten thousand dollars to get to the “next level” of the religion.)

    Don’t they give you any say over the ads that show up, Hemant?

  • Siamang

    Hey, if Scientology wants to waste their money advertising to the one group most resistant to their ploy, let em.

    I like to think they’re spending their money promoting their own downfall.

  • Thomas Owens

    Some years ago(about eight, I think), I worked for several months as a custodian at the high school in Taylorsville, NC. While working there, I saw religious tracts displayed in the window of the coach’s office in the boys gym. In the main entrance, there was a bulletin board listing all the staff and their positions. That list included a listing for a Bible teacher. All sorts of official school activities were built around and included official Christian activities and rituals and slogans included in these school activities. There was an atmosphere at the school that strongly suggested that any non-Christian similar activity would not be acceptable nor tolerated. I was even approached by the aforementioned coach on school grounds while I was working and while he was on official paid duty and asked if I was “Saved.” I reported this activity to the assistant principal, who was my boss, and she got the worst of the activity curbed for the time being. By the next school year, she had taken a position in a different school and the new assistant principal, who was promoted to the position from the existing teachers, pretty well ran me off by being hyper critical of my work performance and I resigned before she could sabotage me further.

    There was nothing appearing to be compliance to the US constitution there.

  • The comments on that site are mind-boggling.

    The same people who point out that the first amendment only deals with laws passed by Congress then go on to say that the people who asked for the banners to be removed were violating the cheerleaders’ first amendment rights.

    HELLO! Anybody home?

  • Kaylya

    I’ve got no problem with them using a genuinely motivational quote from the Bible. While not appropriate in this case, the “To everything there is a season” passage from Ecclesiastes comes to mind.

    The problem is not the source, but whether it’s promoting a particular belief. And
    “I press on toward the goal to win the prize for which God has called me in Christ Jesus” is definitely pretty specific. As would be something like “All things are possible through God”.

    I wouldn’t have a problem with a banner saying “I press on toward the goal to win the prize” other than it generally being a pretty terrible cheer.

  • MPM

    Maybe I’m misunderstanding, but I have to disagree that it would be okay for the cheerleaders to make their own banners to bring to a game. If they are at a school event, in school uniform, wouldn’t they be prohibited from proselytizing?

    Imagine a cop pulls you over for speeding and, during the execution of his official duties, gives you an “I heart Xenu” button. Is that okay as long as he made it in his basement and not while at work?

  • Randy

    I think the quote from Conan the Barbarian would be great:

    “What is good in life? To destroy your enemy, to see them driven before you and hear the lamentation of the women.”

    But thats me.

  • David D.G.

    The thing I find significant is that it took five years for anyone to make a complaint — and in all that time, it seems that nobody connected with the school or the school district (including any legal consultants) ever pointed out the blatant violation of church/state separation in this practice.

    The fact that the school responded properly after only one complaint suggests to me that they knew that this was illegal and that they’d be called on it eventually, but that they decided to allow the practice to go on for as long as they could get away with it.

    ~David D.G.

  • Wendy

    I’ve never understood how these people can possibly believe that an all-powerful (and presumably very busy) creator could give a rat’s ass about a specific high school football match.

  • sc0tt

    What font is that? Spongebob Sans Serif?

  • Polly

    Devil’s advocate:
    This isn’t the government forcing religion on people, it’s a squad of cheerleaders – I’m assuming this was their idea and not an adult’s.

    There is something to the idea of the minority (or 1) not dominating the majority on trivial matters. We always say “no one has a right to not be offended.” I’d apply it in this case. Seeing a Bible verse is not a hardship. If the squad were composed of Muslims or Bhuddists and they put up a quote? Same reaction. As long as it’s student-led I don’t really care.

    Frankly, this is not a battle I’d engage unless there were more to the story, say a pattern of overt discrimination against others.

    I have braindead religiosity pushed in my face all the time. So what? Why wouldn’t I expect the same type of inanity from cheerleaders?

  • John L

    Perhaps they could’ve chosen a more meaningful phrase from the bible that might have actually applied to cheering for their football team. I’m an atheist but I still recognize that there is some wisdom in the bible and inspiration can be made from it. I don’t have a problem with students quoting the bible in good taste anymore than I would if they quoted the Koran, Plato or Hitler. (not to say that either of them have any comparison). But, perhaps society isn’t ready for it.

    The legality of it all and walking the fine line between a simple bible quote and promoting the bible is a bit more complicated though.

  • Siamang

    I’d apply it in this case. Seeing a Bible verse is not a hardship.

    My child’s school has a lot of Jewish kids.

    Put up this banner in school, and there’d be a lot of upset parents, I’m guessing.

    All of which is nothing but a distraction from actual school, which is what they’re supposed to be there for.

    Leave the Sunday School for Sunday. It isn’t the job of Cheerleaders or the Public School to push Christ Jesus.

    I’m interested in this quote:

    “The cheerleaders are not trying to push a religious cause, to shove religion down someone’s throat,”

    I’m wondering what actually constitutes “shoving a religion down someone’s throat”? Because clearly this guy doesn’t think that shoehorning into a cheerleading routine is throat-shoving.

    People seem to be uniformly against “throat-shoving”. But of course, it’s unclearly defined what that is.

    I’m guessing that to some people, anything short of kidnapping people and tying them to a pew isn’t throat-shoving.

  • SL8ofhand

    I wonder how any God worth worshipping would consider a little paper and some painted words as a reason to grant favor to one team over another…forever marking half of those players as losers and unworthy of his benevolence…

  • Jen

    Don’t these girls have homework? That sign must have taken forever to paint, and also they are ugly, for the record. And come to think of it, are these the banners the team breaks when they run through? That is a little… I don’t know, unseemly. It reminds me of those proud Americans that (against the rules of said flag) wrap a flag around their shoulders or tape it to their car.

  • I’m with Wendy. That seems like a pretty stupid quote to use, religious or not. The scripture was talking about spiritual battles. I’m pretty certain that the verse was not referring to a GAME between school teams. Especially if you ARE Christian, why would you want your religion watered down by organized sports?

  • Laura Lou

    The first amendment does NOT say that the government will not FORCE a religion on people. Where are people getting that notion? Also, the mayor is an idiot. To say “No one is forced to read the signs” is like running around naked on campus and saying, “I’m not forcing people to look at my girly bits!”

  • llewelly

    “The cheerleaders are not trying to push a religious cause, to shove religion down someone’s throat”

    Then removing religious references shouldn’t inconvenience them a bit.

  • Polly

    People seem to be uniformly against “throat-shoving”.

    Is that what they’re calling it these days?
    Well, in any case the cheerleaders in my school were quite enthusiastic about it.

  • stephanie

    What I don’t understand is why Christians aren’t complaining about using these phrases. If I believed that pablum, I’d have a problem with someone taking a passage from my high holy book and intentionally misinterpreting it so it could apply to something frivolous.

  • muggle

    You’ve got to be kidding me about this not being about shoving religion down the throats. That’s exactly what it is and, I guarantee you, if that had been my daughter’s school, I’d have been the one person complaining. If I see it at my grandson’s, likewise. Might not mention the grandson to protect him, but I sure as hell would complain.

    I was also thinking along Stephanie’s line, how is it the Christians are conveniently not finding this blasphemous? Not only are they making the verses frivilous by using them for something so trivial but they’re ripping them apart by having the team run through the banner! Huh, on what planet are these people? Maybe we should cheer the blasphemy.

    And, please, cheerleaders, gimme a break on the being holy thing. When you’re jumping around in short skirts and flashing your legs while screaming cheers to draw the eye over, it ain’t the spirit you’re attempting to move, it’s the testerone. Testerone, unlike God, does help win football games.

  • The irony is these are the same people that are claiming President Obama is “forcing a socialist agenda down our children’s throats” just by telling them to be good Americans and do well in school.

    You can’t win with these people because they have no ability to think rationally. It’s time religion was outlawed for the good of the country. And if they don’t like it they can go back to where they came from.

  • I so wish I was an atheist when I was in high school so I could start a Fellowship of Student Pastafarians or Fellowship of the Mentally Sane, rather than Fellowship of Christian Students.

  • How is this okay, if they make them at home and bring them to school? But a fan holding up “Bong hits for Jesus” Get banned from the games? He made his sign at HOME and not at school.

  • Rostrum Camera

    All the atheists/non-christians need to do is get an even bigger banner to erect at the end of losing games saying something like “Where was Jesus today? Batting for the other side by the looks of it!”

  • I notice the Philippians 3:18-19 is about the “enemies of the cross of Christ: Whose end is destruction, whose God is their belly, and whose glory is in their shame, who mind earthly things.)”

  • E

    How many people in town attending games were actually bothered by this but didn’t feel comfortable saying so?

    How many of the cheerleaders had a problem with this but didn’t feel comfortable voicing it?

    Anyone who’s ever bucked the system knows how easy it is for a very few loud, obnoxious people to bully a whole bunch of people into doing something, and how difficult it is to be the voice in the back of the room saying ‘uh…hey…wait a minute there….’

  • David Taylor

    These poor cheerleaders have little hope being brainwashed from infancy. They don’t need an education because god might provide, and when he doesn’t, mom & dad will take care of them. No worries.

  • B Johnson

    I attended Lakeview Fort Oglethorpe High School the four previous years. I am Christian BUT I knew that this was wrong. It’s obvious that it’s wrong. There were never any other religions promoted there and while the school might be primarily Christian.. There are always minorities. In fact, my best friend is Atheist. How are these banners fair? And honestly, what if it wasn’t Christian bible verses on the banners?.. What if the situation was reversed and another religion was being ‘shoved down people’s throats’? Also, the cheerleaders weren’t forced to do anything. They are, after all, cheerleaders. Anyone who paid attention in US History class should know that the banners violate the separation of church and state.
    Anyways, I was just looking for information on a speech that I have to do on Monday and I came across this.

  • HowardK

    For me, the difference is WHERE the banner is being displayed. If they were students holding that up in the bleachers, then it’s free speech. When it’s cheerleaders, (who’s program is being sponsored by the school, BTW) holding the sign up ON THE FIELD during the game, then it becomes a religious display supported by the school. To me, that’s where it crosses the line and should be stopped.

  • steviewunder

    most people who protest so much over the separation of church and state actually have no concept of what the founding fathers intended ( and actually don’t care to do any research to find out ).

    People left Europe to head to America primarily for the purpose of having religious freedom, as none really existed in European nations.

    The founders of the constitution did not want to see the same thing happen in the new nation they were designing and wanted to make sure that the no church ( no particular religion )would ever be able to control the nation itself. It had NOTHING to do with a separation of state from religion itself ! And that is the entire concept that you guys don’t recognize.

    Try doing some research on the meetings that took place during the time the founders met to work out details of the constitution and you may find something
    VEWWWWWWWWWWWWWY INTEWESTING and which blows your entire basis for your so-called illegality out of the water.



    The Supreme Court judges who made their rulings on this matter have about as much intelligence and logic/ reason as you guys.

    Any one with a brain should be able to see what was intended in that part of the constituion, and atheists and their attorneys have simply preyed on the stupid guys who run our judicial system with these absurd lawsuits.

    You have the right to practice any religion or no religion in this country. That same law was never intended for your small minority to attempt to stop any and all religious practices that the majority of the nation prefers to enjoy.

    You people are a hopeless and sad lot.

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